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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Dying Breed? Or, let's talk about portable gaming...

No picture today, folks.

Today's article may kind of seem like it's coming out of the blue, but I've been thinking about writing this for a while and I feel it's necessary to bring it up. So, being a one-man video game/pop culture blog (though it's kinda just turning into a video game blog...), it's tough for me to come up with articles that are engaging and worth a read sometimes. I try to keep up with the recent news and such... but damn, sometimes there are just rough patches where NOTHING new and cool goes on.

However, with Xenoblade Chronicles on the horizon, I hope I'll have more to talk about, especially since everything I've read/seen/what-have-you has been AWESOME. Today, though, I'd like to talk about portable gaming- the state of it, and what it means to you all. I'd like to encourage discussion as much as possible, so please, if you have anything to contribute, do so in the comments, or on forums where the blog is posted, or in our facebook group. Whoo!

So portable gaming. We all know that it's a risky move for any company. I'm going to come out and say that Nintendo has a stranglehold on portable gaming right now, and i don't really think there's any contesting that. Yes, the Playstation Vita is a cool toy. Yes, it has really good graphics and solid online support and even some cool games, but the Playstation Vita didn't make nearly as big of a mark when it was first introduced as the Nintendo 3DS did. There's a couple of reasons for this, and I feel as though I should explain myself.

The Playstation Vita was essentially Sony's offer to "hardcore Sony players" to buy another bit of cool hardware- and it is a cool piece of hardware! I'm in no way opposed to the PSVita, and I think that Sony did a very nice job putting together the system launch, with 25 really nice titles. But the PSVita is plagued by something that the 3DS also has trouble with, although on a lesser scale. That would be the development time.

See, handheld games, in general, have been such interesting beasts because back in the day, it didn't take a lot to make a good handheld game. You had a relatively simple system to work with, and since most games were on the pixelated level then anyway, you had a bunch of talented game designers making high-quality sprite-based games. Thus, new games were frequent, and had a consistent level of quality.

Now, as gaming devices are innovating and becoming more complex beasts, the companies that support them have to deal with new graphical outputs. Sure, the Playstation Vita can support the Unreal Engine, but that gives game developers pressure to utilize its graphical ability to their fullest extent- which means they might spend a long development period creating a game for a tiny portable system.

Which brings us to another problem- portability. When we pick up our 3DS or our PSVita, do we expect a meaty, console length game? Portable games like Pokemon are successful because they have a brief story that leads the player into an online competitive environment, prolonging the effect of the game. And that's what portable gaming used to be- something you could pick up and play at any time. But when you port Metal Gear Solid 3 to the 3DS, you're giving a portable system a game that has extremely lengthy cutscenes that they might not have time to commit to. A portable gaming system needs to be something that you can take somewhere and play, not something you spend an evening on. Too often, I find myself in my bedroom, playing through a whole game, instead of playing it on the go every now and then. That's partially because of developers straying away from "save at any time" games and making them more like full-length console games, or doing them in a chapter format.

Now, the chapter format works at times, but it still makes a game necessary to play for a certain amount of time. And while the 3DS has its wonderfully implemented "close the system, pause the game" mechanic, you're still running battery power on the device, which can be a game-killer more than a game-saver. However, I'm not against lengthy titles on a portable system, and I personally wish there were more. But we're stuck at a time where brief playthroughs and lengthy playthroughs are pretty much at a balance. I mean, if I'm paying 40 dollars for a game, I would hope it would be on par with the Gamecube title that I paid ten dollars more for in the past. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. But with graphical ability improving and companies making use of it more, games need to be a little more expensive.

Nintendo has at least been very economical by releasing their games sparsely over the 3DS' lifespan thus far, and though we have many games to look forward to, it would be best if they were released far apart from one another. While Nintendo and the third parties that are on board with the 3DS have released some lengthy, quality games, they've been far enough apart that a player can get through their whole adventure just before the next quality title comes out. But if games continue to rely on the "it's portable, so it has to be short" methodology, they will lose steam fast. Because gamers that buy a gaming system buy it now to HAVE quality game titles. You don't buy a 3DS so you can pick up Angry Birds, though we'll eventually have it. You buy it to own the experiences like Kid Icarus, Super Mario Land 3D, Mario Kart 7 Resident Evil Revelations, and Street Fighter- to have games that suit whatever mood you're in and are relatively replayable, whether it's because they have online or are just long games.
The need for the 3DS to be constantly on in order to experience its full potential is a little bit of buzzkill, as well- while the 3DS' battery power lasts a while when it's closed, a lot of other factors contribute to its battery life, and its often too reliant on passing others with a 3DS. In other words, a portable gaming device is a commitment, almost as much as having a 3G or 4G phone. And while video gamers are out there, they aren't the type that mingle very often. Sure, I've been to conventions and gotten 200 hits on streetpass, but otherwise, it's a tedious ordeal trekking around college and hoping for a one. With internet functionality, it's awesome to be able to play online and download games, but where are you going to find a solid access point other than your home?

It's a tough game, because portable consoles need to now have MORE reasons to be owned than just 'it can play this video game!" They need to have good online communities, or good communication abilities, or the ability to surf the web, and even communicate with your home console. They need to perform just as well as any expensive electronic device one would get- and that's something that's hard to design, and hard to sell. Which is why I believe that the idea of portable gaming is dying- because all that's necessary for a "portable" system is being negated by the fact that you need to be home you use them to their best ability.

But... what do you think?

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